Ben E. King (1938 - 2015)
May 1, 2015 6:41 PM   Subscribe

Ben E. King has died at 76. He was the original singer of "Stand by Me" (later covered by John Lennon, Otis Redding, Bono/Springsteen, and many others), which he cowrote with the famous songwriting team of Leiber and Stoller.

But my favorite of his songs is his first solo hit (i.e. without the Drifters), "Spanish Harlem." He didn't write that one. But he did write Led Zeppelin's "We're Gonna Groove."

A lesser-known one: "I Who Have Nothing" (info).

The New York Times obituary quotes him:
“I still think my whole career was accidental. I didn’t pursue it. I feel like I’m cheating sometimes.”
posted by John Cohen (37 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:44 PM on May 1, 2015

Tracy Chapman just covered "Stand by Me" on Letterman a couple weeks ago. Great version.

posted by dogwalker at 6:44 PM on May 1, 2015 [6 favorites]

I love that quote from the NYT.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 6:50 PM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


B. B. King is also reported to be in hospice care today.
posted by spitbull at 7:02 PM on May 1, 2015


posted by BlueHorse at 7:07 PM on May 1, 2015

posted by localroger at 7:08 PM on May 1, 2015

posted by srt19170 at 7:13 PM on May 1, 2015

RIP, Great One.
posted by jonmc at 7:18 PM on May 1, 2015

He was/is much beloved in our household. The subtlety, romance and humor in his voice... Just devastating. We are pouring latin-jazzy cocktails in his honor tonight.

Besame Mucho



On The Street Where You Live

Interview recorded in 1986.
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 7:34 PM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

The only things I can think of to say, sir, you already said in your music, much better than I'll ever say anything about anything.

So, I'll just say the only thing I can:

Thank you.

posted by phoebus at 7:36 PM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by sfred at 7:57 PM on May 1, 2015

"Stand By Me" is one of the very few songs I know that feels like a warm hug. And it wasn't just the words. It was That Voice.
posted by datawrangler at 8:23 PM on May 1, 2015 [4 favorites]

Somewhere in my parents' house, there is a very embarrassing tape of eight-year-old me belting out "Stand By Me" that was recorded at an amusement park's "Be A Star" studio in 1992 or 1993, before we could all do this ourselves via GarageBand. I chose it, because for some reason it was the one I knew the best from the catalog they had. Thanks, Mr. King, for that first foray into performance.

posted by ilana at 8:28 PM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

posted by Ik ben afgesneden at 8:30 PM on May 1, 2015

posted by 1367 at 8:38 PM on May 1, 2015

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:23 PM on May 1, 2015

posted by evilDoug at 9:29 PM on May 1, 2015

There are few songs that are so deep, so heartfelt, and so universal that you could refer to them as "secular hymns." This is one of them.
posted by zooropa at 9:52 PM on May 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

posted by dougzilla at 9:56 PM on May 1, 2015

I was pretty young- 13 I think - when I fully absorbed the gravity of his #1 song, but also of that something in his voice, that lead me into Motown and also in search of deeper friendships. It began at the end of a movie, with this line: "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?"
posted by moonbird at 9:59 PM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

posted by TwoStride at 10:25 PM on May 1, 2015

The soundtrack to Stand By Me was the first cassette tape I bought with my own babysitting money. I nearly wore it out, especially the title song. I just thought Ben E. King's voice was so beautiful.

posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:41 PM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

The moon is dark.

posted by ersatz at 1:42 AM on May 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by aesop at 4:40 AM on May 2, 2015

posted by Cash4Lead at 5:20 AM on May 2, 2015

posted by Mezentian at 6:55 AM on May 2, 2015

posted by Renoroc at 7:30 AM on May 2, 2015

posted by Sphinx at 7:39 AM on May 2, 2015

posted by LeLiLo at 8:56 AM on May 2, 2015

This thread taught me that both Ben E King and Tracy Chapman were alive last week.
Things I did not know.

Thing I did know: If you care about the song, or life: Stand By Me is a song that you cannot fuck up.
posted by Mezentian at 9:00 AM on May 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

posted by El Brendano at 9:23 AM on May 2, 2015

Sorry to lose him, I had seen him live a number of years ago.
Here's another of my favorites, sung back in the 60s when he was singing with the Drifters: Save the Last Dance for Me - he didn't write it, but he sure did sing it - what a voice.

Sort of a bad day for classic musical greats yesterday - word also came out that BB King is in hospice.
posted by madamjujujive at 12:27 PM on May 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by trip and a half at 2:33 PM on May 2, 2015

25th-anniversary Interview with the cast of film Stand By Me.
The song has been covered over 400 times.
King was part of The Drifters for 1959 US#2 There Goes My Baby as well as 1960 Save the Last Dance for Me which spent 3 weeks at US#1. (Both with Leiber-Stoller on the writing team.)

King replaced Clyde McPhatter when the whole group was fired by volatile owner George Treadwell in May, 1958. He left when he was denied a raise and a fair share of royalties. Treadwell was not the only dictatorial 'owner' in that era ... far from it. Even the Chess brothers 'managed' their artists' incomes.
posted by Twang at 3:08 PM on May 2, 2015

There was a good documentary on the BBC a while ago, about the ten "richest" songs - i.e. those that had paid out most in songwriting royalties over the years. Apparently Stand By Me is one of them. Of all the songwriters interviewed, Ben E King came across by far the best, to me - including by comparison to Leiber and Stoller (who, it seems, mostly arranged King's original song, though the royalty split was entirely amicable).

Whilst many of the songwriters seem to have squandered their wealth, or simply indulged their passions over the years, King came across as incredibly humble and appreciative - and it turns out he set up a charitable foundation for young underprivileged people to get access to education and training, with his earnings from the song.

posted by iotic at 3:58 PM on May 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

posted by Fibognocchi at 8:02 PM on May 2, 2015

The Pandora station that I play most often was originally seeded with "Stand By Me", and over the months it has introduced me to this amazing selection of great music.

posted by RedOrGreen at 1:26 PM on May 4, 2015

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